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The Batman: A Gritty Take on the Caped Crusader’s Story

Michael Athey looks at Pattinson’s performance and the dark aesthetic of the new Batman film

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Image Credit: Warner Bros.

There is something in the way of Batman’s iconography that keeps bringing new directors to the caped crusader and finding new ways to bring him to life on the big screen. The current contender is Matt Reeves, probably most well-known for the final two films in the Planet of the Apes reboot. Reeves faced a hard task in creating another successful version of Batman. How does one keep this iteration unique when it’s now the sixth we’ve seen on screen, the third in the last ten years? Especially when one of those iterations – Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy – managed to surpass the confines of the superhero film and is considered one of the best film trilogies of all time.

The weight of this task must have fed into the stylisation of The Batman because if there is one word that feels apt for the film it is ‘weight’. Nolan’s films were realistic but unafraid to go for the cinematically spectacular. In contrast, The Batman is very much a gritty and grimy boots on the ground affair. This is this iteration’s main unique selling point. If someone was to really dress up as a bat and attempt to beat up criminals, this is how it would feel. Where Nolan still had the mythic hero quality, Reeves depicts a Batman who is still very much a human. From the clink of his boots to every punch decked into a thug’s skull, Reeves places us amid the action. This grit is transferred to the city of Gotham as well. We seldom see Gotham in daylight. Each shot looks like it’s sagging to breaking point with rain, corruption, and dread. Whilst this ultra-dour tone is a bit heavy handed at times– I couldn’t help but laugh when Nirvana started playing or when we heard Pattinson’s voiceover for the first time – for the most part it succeeds. Reeves emphatically puts the goth in Gotham.

With the objective to put the goth in Gotham, it makes sense that Reeves called on Robert Pattinson to lead the cast as the city’s masked vigilante. Pattinson has already cut his chops playing sullen characters in the famous teenage vampire franchise, Twilight. However, such a remark doesn’t really represent Pattinson as an actor anymore. Ever since Twilight, he’s stayed faraway from big franchises, in favour of honing his acting craft with interesting indie directors.

That might be why some critics are disappointed to see Pattinson’s performance as Batman and Bruce as one note, in contrast to Christian Bale’s portrayal in The Dark Knight trilogy where he got to express his talent playing almost three different personas within one. The mythic Batman, the billionaire playboy façade, and the fractured Bruce behind the closed doors of Wayne Manor. In Pattinson’s version, just like we barely see Gotham in daylight, we also barely see Bruce Wayne without the cowl.

The glimmers we do see aren’t exactly full of life either. In fact, Pattinson’s Wayne and Batman are largely indistinguishable. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is a depressive insomniac who only begins to function when beating up Gotham’s criminal underbelly. Where critics label this as one noted though I rather believe it is evidence of a compelling character and signifies what comes to be his arc across the film.

Near the beginning of the film, we see Bruce Wayne journaling the details of his recent escapades, in order to not forget them. For the broken protagonist, they all blur into one. This is because he isn’t Batman with a purpose yet. Bruce goes out every night not to be a hero, but because he knows no other way to handle his trauma. He is resigned to a cycle of violence upon violence. The arc we begin to see is Bruce beginning to realise that his Batman could be something more than a vehicle rapidly careening towards fulfilling his own death wish. As we see Batman stand in the clear view of daylight at the end of the film, he realises Batman could actually be a hero to aspire to.

With Riddler having exposed the well of corruption seeded into Gotham’s every institution through fetish for duct tape, perhaps Bruce realises that he can also be a hero outside of the mask. Affecting just as much change as a key public figure with the resources for philanthropy. The Batman isn’t an origin story of the vigilante; Batman has been active for two years in the film’s timeline. However, it is the beginning of Batman actually being a hero that inspires and a Bruce Wayne that can offer his support to the city instead of being a social recluse.

With the next villain from Batman’s rogue’s gallery already teased for the future, Reeves is pencilled in to lead a trilogy of films. It’s too early to say whether this will eventually succeed The Dark Knight trilogy as being the best Batman on screen.

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